In September of 1969, Walter Zulak organized a dozen or so alumni of a high school/minor seminary in Roblin, Manitoba into a male chorus, known quite appropriately as the St. Vladimir’s College Alumni Choir. It was at St. Vladimir’s College, under the leadership and direction of Dr. Paul Macenko, that new life and understanding had been breathed into a forgotten tradition for these young men. Inspired by their instruction and instructors at the college, the objectives the alumni choir were clear: to encourage, promote, and preserve their Ukrainian heritage as part of the mosaic that makes up Canada’s rich culture.

The 1970’s

Their original performing venues were the various Ukrainian Catholic Parishes in Winnipeg and rural Manitoba, where they were best known for singing of the Divine Liturgy, social events, and concerts. In May of 1973, having performed widely in Manitoba, as well as in Saskatoon and Kenora, the group traveled to perform concerts in Omaha, Nebraska.

In 1975, they joined with a dance troupe and popular band, “The About Five” (also with roots from St. Vladimir’s College), and formed the group Hoosli. The name, suggested by Dr. Macenko but unfamiliar to many, is that of an ancient instrument similar to a zither.

Things moved quickly along after that, and highlights of the 70’s include:

  • The release of their first recording in the spring of 1976
  • A concert tour of Saskatchewan in the fall of 1976
  • A California concert tour of San Diego and Los Angeles in 1977

The 1970’s came to a close with the celebration of Hoosli’s 10th Anniversary and an appearance in “Feast of Koliada”, a part of a CBC national television series, “Musicamera”.

The 1980’s

The 1980’s brought major changes to the group. In the summer of 1980, Walter Zulak, their motivating force to this point, moved to Alberta in the pursuit of business, and handed over the reins of Choir Director to Michael Zakaluzny. These were difficult times as Hoosli had to re-establish membership, repertoire and a functional organization. In 1981, Tom Sobkow was introduced as Artistic Director. Tom was a long time member of Hoosli and held a similar position under Walter Zulak in the late 1970’s. He shared the same vision and enthusiasm that sparked the spirit of Hoosli, and with his background in the performing arts, Hoosli achieved a new level of performance.

In 1984, the Ukrainian National Home Association opened its doors to Hoosli as a permanent rehearsal facility and a base for operations. With that, the organization grew to include a Board of Directors, the adoption of a Constitution in 1986, Incorporation in 1988, and achieving status as a charitable organization in 1989. Choir membership was reviewed and opened to all members of the Ukrainian community, and in the spirit of the millennium, now includes members of both the Catholic and Orthodox faiths.

The artistic production team expanded to include William Solomon as Choral Director in 1985, and Cecil Semchyshyn as Artistic Director in 1988. They brought with them a vast knowledge of Ukrainian folk music, the male chorus and choral singing in general.

A retrospective look of the 80’s includes: 

  • The release of their second and third recordings in 1984 and 1987 respectively
  • Appearances at various festivals including Ukrainian Festival (Gardenton, MB), Veselka Festival (Foam Lake, SK), Pysanka Festival (Vegreville, AB), Canada’s National Ukrainian Festival (Dauphin, MB), Vesna Festival (Saskatoon, SK), Ukrainian Festival (Holmdel, NJ) and Ukrainian Festival (Edmonton, AB)
  • Annual performances at the Kyiv Pavilion of Folklorama
  • Competing victoriously in its class in two consecutive Manitoba Music Festival competitions
  • Appearances on local CBC productions including Christmas Specials (’84, ’89), and the Children’s Miracle Telethon (’87-’89)
  • Millennium celebrations in Minneapolis, Minnesota in the fall of 1988

The 1990’s

Entering its 20th year, the 1990’s saw an influx of a new members into the Hoosli Ukrainian Male Chorus, both from its traditional source of membership at St. Vladimir’s College, and from the greater Ukrainian community of Winnipeg.

The group celebrated three anniversaries during these years: On February 4, 1990, a Gala Concert was held to celebrate its 20th Anniversary. On October 27, 1995, they held a Dinner Cabaret to commemorate their 25th Anniversary. Closing out the decade, on November 5, 1999, their 30th Anniversary was celebrated with a dinner, dance and choral program under the direction of William Solomon and assistant conductor Michael Ryczak.

Beyond the anniversaries, the 90’s was busy decade, which included:

  • Release of their 20th Anniversary Concert Album in 1991
  • Release of their first Christmas Album “Rejoice” in 1994
  • Participating in Malanka Celebrations at Jasper Park Lodge, hosted by Vohon Dance Ensemble, in 1996 and 1997
  • Annual performances at the Kyiv Pavilion of Folklorama
  • Participation in Troyanda Ukrainian Dance Ensemble’s 20th Anniversary
  • Release of their sixth album “Encore” in 1998

The 2000’s

Heading into the 21st century and its third decade of existence, Hoosli continued to move forward and progress, but kept an eye to its rich past of not only song, but music. The Zoloti Struny Bandura Ensemble, a group of women dedicated to the playing of the Bandura, Ukraine’s national instrument, became an integral part of Hoosli’s performances and its next recording.

In 2002 the direction of the choir was passed along from Bill Solomon to Michael Ryczak. Michael Zakaluzny returned to the choir to fill the position of Assistant Conductor.

During this time Hoosli participated in celebrating the 75th Anniversary of St. Michael’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Minneapolis, incorporating Zoloti Struny and the Rozmai Dance Ensemble into their performance. Hoosli continued annual performances at the Kyiv Pavilion of Folklorama and joined both Rusalka and Troyanda Ukrainian Dance Ensemble in performances celebrating major anniversaries.

In 2003, Hoosli released it’s seventh album “Play Minstrel, Play”.

On October 23rd, 2004, Hoosli celebrated their 35th Anniversary with a Cabaret evening, featuring guest performers Zoloti Struny, Rusalka, and a female chorus joining for a Volyn suite. The first thirty-five years of Hoosli’s history were filled with many successes, memorable events and continued growth. Through all the changes throughout the years, Hoosli’s direction is focused on the preservation of Ukrainian Culture through song, music and dance. They shared that history as a part of their celebrations, and look forward to doing so for 35 more years.

In September 2005 renowned conductor William Solomon returned to the group as Choir Conductor. The addition of talented accordionist Ken Kuchma soon after, as well as a fresh wave of young talent ensured continued growth and a high level of performance.

In May of 2008, Hoosli embarked on their first road trip in many years, performing at Vesna Ukrainian Festival in Saskatoon.

Hoosli began its 40th Anniversary celebrations with a banquet and dance on Saturday, April 25, 2009. The 40th Anniversary Gala Concert, held on Saturday, October 24, 2009, was Hoosli’s first concert production in Winnipeg in 20 years. The event featured guest artists Orlan Ukrainian Dance Ensemble, Zoloti Struny Bandura Ensemble, and Rusalka Ukrainian Dance Ensemble. The concert featured selections from the full range of Hoosli’s repertoire including liturgical pieces, poignant historical songs, fun and rousing folk songs. The centerpiece of the concert was the majestic and powerful Zaporozian Suite, featuring 34 vocalists and 16 dancers to help recreating the lives of the kozaky on stage.

Hoosli released its eighth album “Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in the Byzantine Rite” at the 40th Anniversary Gala Concert. The album features special guest celebrant Reverend Father Alexander Harkavyi. Hoosli’s Divine Liturgy album presents compositions and arrangements by some of the most celebrated names in Ukrainian Liturgical Music. 

The 2010’s

Hoosli has continued to perform and record over the last decade. Perhaps the most notable activities of these years have been Hoosli’s efforts to collaborate with other choral and community groups and bring it’s music to a larger audience.

In 2010 Hoosli participated in the “Brothers in Harmony” Male Chorus Symposium, with workshops and a mass choir performance from several local choirs. In 2011 Hoosli hosted the renowned Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus for their Winnipeg performance and began a relationship of collaboration and friendship that has flourished since.

In 2012 Hoosli and the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus performed together for concerts in St. Catherine’s and Toronto, Ontario. These were recorded and released by the groups as the “Brotherhood Concert Series (Братство)” album. In 2014, Hoosli and the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus collaborated for additional Brotherhood performances in Winkler, MB and at the Pantages Playhouse in Winnipeg.

Hoosli has continued to perform at local events including the 50th anniversary of Rusalka, the 75th anniversary of the Carpathia Credit Union, the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Ukrainian Institute Prosvita, and the 200th anniversary of the birth of Taras Shevchenko.

In December of 2016 Hoosli released it’s tenth album and second Christmas album “Christmas Star (Різдвяна Зірка)”. This album includes well known Ukrainian Christmas carols and seasonal folk songs as well as some lesser know, but powerful seasonal choral pieces. This was the final album from renowned and longtime Conductor William Solomon who retired from the group following completion of the album.

Walter Skakun graciously accepted Hoosli’s invitation to become the principal Conductor of Hoosli Ukrainian Male Chorus in July 2016.

In December 2016, Hoosli was invited to perform with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra for their annual Christmas celebration. In March 2017, Hoosli was invited to sing the anthems for a nationally televised Winnipeg Jets game. The group enjoyed widespread national and social media coverage and international praise for their powerful rendition of the anthems. Hoosli continued to perform national anthems for the Winnipeg Jets, Winnipeg Goldeyes and Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2017 and 2018.

In 2018, Hoosli welcomed Tadeusz Biernacki as Conductor. Mr. Biernacki is an accomplished composer, arranger, pianist and conductor whose work has graced stages across the country and around the world. Tad is the long-time Chorus Master and Assistant Music Director of the Manitoba Opera and is the past Music Director of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

Hoosli has continued to recruit young singers and remains as vibrant and active a group as ever before.  The group has continued to perform locally and regionally, and publish recordings of traditional Ukrainian music.

Hoosli is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2019 with a year of public events and performances. This will culminate with our 50th Anniversary Gala Concert at the Centennial Concert Hall on December 6, 2019. The Gala Concert will feature guest performances by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, soprano Andriana Chuchman, accordionist Myron Kurjewicz and Rusalka Ukrainian Dance Ensemble.